On Thursday 19th January 2023 the Society visited the "Medical Museum" in the sub-basement of the former County Hall, now the Wheeler Building of the university. The large Neo-Georgian County Hall, used to house the offices of Cheshire County Council, was built between 1938 and 1957, (work was delayed by WW2). The building was designed by the county architect, E. Mainwaring Parkes, and involved the demolition of the gaol and houses in Skinner's Lane. The Chester Castle precincts (bounded by Castle Drive to the south, Grosvenor Street to the west and Castle Street and St Mary's Hill to the east - and not including the castle itself) were historically an extra-parochial area and today remain a civil parish, although with no inhabitants. Curiously, the parish was part of the Chester Rural District, and did not form part of Chester County Borough. This meant that County Hall was actually in the administrative county of Cheshire, despite being in the middle of the city. However, the Local Government Act 1972 saw it become part of the City of Chester district, along with the rest of Chester Rural District. In 1891, it had a population of 249, which had declined to 8 by 1971. According to the 2001 census, it had no inhabitants at all.
Conversion of the County Hall basement into the County Emergency Control centre (aka "Nuclear Bunker") was started in 1966 but stopped in 1968 when the room was found to have blocked high level windows. The local authority had another "secret" bunker under the council offices in Ellesmere Port, which was the subject of a planning application in 1990. According to the planning application (which was published) it included numerous facilities such as three-tier bunk beds, a kitchen and restroom, toilets and showers, an area for removing contaminated clothing, and rooms for scientific advisers, a management team, an emergency committee, the chief executive and rather oddly Trading Standards.
In 2009, County Hall was vacated by the Council, and the University of Chester bought County Hall from the City Council for £10.3m. The Medical Museum descibe themselves on their website (see link below) as follows:
- "The Museum, based at the University’s Riverside Campus on Castle Drive, contains a permanent collection of curiosities from the world of medicine, nursing, midwifery and social work which features an original letter from Florence Nightingale, written from the Crimea in 1856. The First World War: Returning Home exhibition commemorates the 100-year anniversary of the conflict and provides an insight into what a soldier invalided back from the Front would have found on his return to Cheshire. Using local examples wherever possible, the exhibition covers aspects such as medical advances, the psychological effects of war, volunteering and volunteer nurses, a doctor’s country practice, home life, food and recipes, rural life and social welfare."
One of the exhibits looks in some detail at the history of a particular war casualty from Chester. A similar history of a casualty from Hoole can be found here. Joseph Benyon (1884-1917) was born in Hoole, educated at All-Saints School and his family lived variously in Bishop Street, Westminster Road, Hamilton Street and Griffiths Terrace. He later moved to Birkenhead and worked at Lever Bros in Port Sunlight. He perished in the wreck of SS Transylvania torpedoed and sunk on 4 May 1917 by the German U-boat SM U-63 at 44°15′N 8°30′E while carrying Allied troops to Egypt with a loss of 412 lives.